Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
The summer may be about to heat up, but for NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers, school’s not even close to letting out. The second marking period of the 36-race season has just ended, and it’s time to check up and see how the top drivers on the NASCAR circuit have performed during the final weeks of spring.
If you’re new to this and haven’t read my driver report card columns, feel free to read part one, part two, part three, and part four from back after race 7. Basically, I’ve decided to divide the year into five segments, and check on each teams’ progress after races 7, 14, 21, and 28. I’ll evaluate on and off-track performance and assign a grade for each seven-race stretch, and then give a final grade at the end of the season.
One more thing before we dive right into it; remember that a grade can be based on expectations as well as results. For example, a driver who is 35th in points with a team not expected to survive past Daytona will likely get a better grade then a driver 15th in points who was picked to contend for the title. Fair or unfair, that’s always been my grading system…
0 – Mike Bliss.
Last time I talked about Mike Bliss in this space, I compared his season in this car to Ward Burton’s in 2004. Strong start until the short tracks, where bad luck killed off momentum, followed by a series of crashes and mechanical failures that caused Burton to get released and Bliss to come on board. In the past seven races, nothing’s changed. The 0 has been involved in three accidents in the last seven races, with two of those resulting in DNFs. The low point actually occurred this past Sunday at Pocono; Bliss got out of the car at the race’s first caution due to pain from a hernia operation, only to watch substitute driver Brendan Gaughan smash into Kyle Petty and bust up the radiator. Of course, everyone will always wonder what momentum the team COULD have received had Bliss held on to win the Nextel Open and transferred into the All-Star Race. But, the bottom line is he was spun out by Brian Vickers and never gained the momentum he needed; you begin to wonder now if he ever will. Stat that tells the story: last time Bliss led a lap in a Nextel Cup race that counted was October 15, 2000 at Talladega.Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: C-.
In his final season, Rusty’s beginning to show something he likely wishes his team had a decade ago – consistency. The Wallace teams of the ‘90s always seemed to have a “boom or bust” mentality: they either found themselves in victory lane or in the other end of the garage before they should be for other problems, DNFs which kept them from winning as many as three championships in that era. But this year, Wallace appears to be in better shape for the Chase with each passing race. The team went through a rough spot at Phoenix and Talladega; Rusty got stuck in two accidents not of his own making, but nursed the car to the end of the race each time, and came back after that to post five straight Top 20 finishes. Add to that a strong 5th at Dover where Rusty nearly notched his first win since Martinsville, and things continue to look up for the former champ, although there is still a ways to go to catch the Roush-Hendrick powerhourse. But overall, a big sigh of relief for a team who found themselves 15th in points at this time last year with no recovery in sight. Grade #1: A-. Grade #2: B+.
Driving for one of the few remaining true single-car teams, the other Wallace racing in Cup got off to a strong start, but appears to have hit a wall as of late. With a team that needed to make the Top 35 in owner points early on, Wallace accomplished that feat and then pulled away from 36th and below, allowing his team to concentrate on race setups and not worry about qualifying the race car. The team couldn’t make their strategy more obvious; Wallace has started 42nd on owners points four times since he cracked the Top 35. Only problem is, he can’t seem to move up on raceday even with the extra practice time on race setup, with just one Top 20 finish to show for his efforts. They’ll continue to be in every race from here on out, but this team’s got a lot of work to do in order to be a contender every Sunday. Grade #1: C. Grade #2: C.
For someone who was supposed to spend his rookie season hooked to the back of a wrecker, Kyle is certainly hooked…to the front of the pack. Three top fives in his last three races make the younger Busch one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, suddenly turning the rookie race into a runaway. Owner Hendrick placed Kyle in both a Busch and Truck ride in the companion races to gain some more experience, and those trips back to the “minors” really appeared to build confidence…especially since Kyle won three of his last four starts in either series. The kid is maturing faster than everybody thought he would, and with the second half of the schedule coming up, the car and team will only get better as they visit tracks for the second time. Any talk of the Chase would be silly at this point, and I still think it’s not his time to win a race yet; but move over, Kurt cause you’ve company at the top of the family. Grade #1: B-. Grade #2:A-.
6 – Mark Martin.
Martin’s last full-time season continues to be filled with solid but not spectacular finishes. He’s slowly begun to solidify his hold on a Chase spot and actually seen a few breaks go his way (see: flat tire just before a race-ending caution at Pocono, Nextel All-Star Race win). But the thing that should concern fans looking for him to bring home the title is that the car can’t quite ever get enough steam to lead at the front of the pack. Top 5s will get you in the Chase, but you can’t win it when one of your own teammates runs better in almost every single race. Which is why a win in the next seven races could prove key to Martin’s title hopes: he needs to win and establish momentum heading into the “postseason,” because finishing at the back of the Top 10 every week just isn’t going to cut it in races 27-36. Michigan and Pocono in July appear to be his best chances to do that. Grade #1: B+. Grade #2: B+.
7 – Robby Gordon.
Hard to tell from the stats, but the 7 team has actually been showing some signs of life as of late with new crew chief Greg Erwin; it just doesn’t reflect in the points standings. Gordon had a solid Top 20 car in Charlotte, possibly a Top 10 car, but was hampered by both oil and tire problems; he followed that up with a decent run at Dover that fell apart when the engine blew. Another oil line problem at Pocono brought the DNF total for Robby to 6 in just 10 starts, and the number of DNQs is now at 4 after issues at both Phoenix and Talladega. Clearly, there’s work to be done; but at least the team is developing a sense of direction. Grade #1: F. Grade #2: D.
8 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
What a difference a year makes. Last year, Dale Jr. steamrolled through the first 14 races, taking home the Daytona 500 and taking control of the points lead while making a statement that he was the team to beat for the title. Now, he can’t get out of his own way fast enough, and he isn’t even the best driver on his own team. The 8 car still hasn’t led a lap at a non-restrictor plate race this season, and since crew chief Pete Rondeau was released prior to Charlotte the team has yet to finish in the Top 20. The most telling sign of this situation came Sunday, when interim crew chief Steve Hmiel tried to make a call for 4 tires instead of 2 when the 8 car had a flat but was overruled by Jr…bad decision, as the car ended up with another flat. The driver is making all the decisions now with this team…except deep down he doesn’t want to. He NEEDS someone to fight his own decisions; the problem is everyone on DEI refuses to do it. And until Little E has someone to put him in line, he’ll continue to slip slide down the ladder. The clock is ticking…who’s gonna step up and crew chief this car before it’s too late? Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: D.
9 – Kasey Kahne.
After enduring several near-misses, piling up half-a-dozen second-place finishes in his first 46 starts, Kahne finally took home the checkered at Richmond in his 47th race on NASCAR’s top circuit. One would think that would establish some momentum for the young driver clearly in a sophomore slump in that point; but surprisingly, that hasn’t happened. Kahne right now seems to be wildly inconsistent; when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s bad, he runs awful. Dover & Pocono were great examples of that, places where Kahne clearly struggled with a loose race car under the 2005 aero rules, running midpack and eventually spinning the car out each time. Still, at least the win is out of the way, and while the Chase is only a marginal possibility, there are tracks coming up (Michigan, Chicagoland) where Kahne could clearly steal a few wins from the Hendrick-Roush contingent. Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: B.
10 – Scott Riggs.
After a strong start, Riggs has clearly cooled off since, without a Top 10 in his last seven starts and failling to generate the type of positive hype the team was feeding off early in the season with the strong Daytona finish. While wrecks have played a part, the bottom line is the team just hasn’t been running as well, now back to a Top 20 car in the race instead of a contender. In fact, the downward spiral has already caused a crew chief change (Rodney Childers in, Doug Randolph out) and put Riggs back in the rumor mill for Silly Season, something most expected from the beginning of 2005. The first race with Childers was hard to judge (Riggs had a flat), but with the season quickly tilting towards disappointment, the next 7 races are critical to Riggs’ future. Whether he will stay or he will go is unclear, but if Riggs does want to leave and step up a notch equipment-wise for 2006, he’s going to have to step it up a notch in performance over the next stretch of races. Grade #1: B. Grade #2: C-.
11 – Jason Leffler.
A season full of disappointment reached a low at Charlotte when Leffler, out fo the Top 35 in owner’s points, failed to qualify for the race; at that point, most who followed the sport thought Fed Ex would demand the driver of the 11 to be shown the door. But instead, owner Gibbs and Fed Ex have shown incredible patience in this day and age, replacing Leffler’s crew chief instead with proven veteran Mike Ford, last with the #88 team of Dale Jarrett. While it’s obvious the crew chief change has bought Leffler more time, it’s already unlikely the driver will pilot the car at Sonoma (Terry Labonte will drive in an effort to get the car back in the Top 35) and the pressure is certainly on Leffler in all other races to perform. The key now is to simply keep qualifying into these races on time so the team can sneak back into the Top 35; one more DNQ, and we’ll be talking about another driver in this space after race 21. Grade #1: D. Grade #2:F.
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Are you going to grade all the other competitors? Last time you graded through car #18 (01-18 if memory serves) I believe and never posted any follow-up grades on the remainder of the teams.
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